The Lamento was obviously a favourite of Mario's, since he began many
of his concerts with the aria, blithely unconcerned about the high B
natural near the end - a potentially dangerous note for a recitalist's
first number. This tells us how comfortable he was vocally, as it's
fairly standard practice for singers to warm up their voices in
recital with a few undemanding pieces before tackling something this
Of course, many tenors choose not to sing the high B - Carreras is one
of them - and we can hardly blame them for avoiding a killer note that
isn't even in Cilea's score. (Though if you've got the note, then why
not flaunt it? :-)) It was Gigli who started the tradition of
interpolating the note, as he explains in an interesting section of
"Some critics [...] reproached me for introducing into the concluding
phrase of the aria a B natural which they could not find in the score.
I did it with Cilea's full consent. Federico is expressing all the
pent-up sorrow of his life; I felt convinced this this called for a
dramatic crescendo at the end of the aria, not a lyrical fading-away.
'Mi fai tanto male - ahime!' No, I could *not* let my voice trail off
on that 'ahime'! I had to sing a B natural if I was to sing it at all.
Cilea not only came around to my point of view; he told me that he
liked it much better than what he had written himself. The audience
seemed to like it too, for they invariably demanded an encore."
I think Gigli's right: it's something of a letdown when singers omit
the B, and I for one *need* that "dramatic crescendo". But it's
interesting that Cilea ended up agreeing with Gigli about its
emotional validity. Gigli, incidentally, is quite frank in his book in
his assessment of Cilea the man and the composer:
"[Cilea] was a man of stern moral and artistic integrity, a little
old-fashioned and perhaps not greatly inspired. The thing about him
that appealed to me most was his innocence. There is not very much to
be said about his music. It is gently idyllic, lacking in vitality,
derivative. Here it recalls Verdi, there Ponchielli, in another place
Boito, and throughout, inescapably, Alfredo Catalani. But it has a
lyric beauty and melodic elegance of its own with which I feel a
Gigli was certainly right about the melodic lyricism of Cilea's music
(Adriana Lecouvreur - his most well-known opera - overflows with it).
And this is especially true of the Lamento, which is also one of the
most hauntingly melancholic arias in the tenor repertoire.
That is, of course, if it's sung in the style that its composer
intended. Of Lanza's four complete versions, for instance, only one of
them - his 1948 Toronto performance - is sung lyrically (and in the
appropriately lyric voice). On his 1955 and 1958 versions, Mario sings
the aria as though were a dramatic aria. And yet it works! The Albert
Hall rendition, in particular - sung in a voice that's even darker
than it was in Serenade three years earlier - is a very long way
indeed from what Cilea intended, yet it's a supremely exciting piece
of singing. In fact, the audience probably didn't know quite what had
hit it - which might explain their somewhat restrained response to
this, the opening number.
But certainly the words of the aria do nothing to discourage a
dramatic approach, e.g., "I will never find peace! / Why must I suffer
so much pain? / She, always she, talks to my heart! / Fateful vision,
go away! Ah! You hurt me so much! Alas!", etc. Who can therefore blame
the tenor who interprets such sentiments with Mediterranean passion
rather than with dignified restraint?
(Interestingly, Nicolai Gedda, who was present at Lanza's first Albert
Hall concert, adopts a similarly dramatic approach to that of Mario in
one of his concert performances of this aria.)
Is there a perfect Lanza rendition of this aria? Probably not - though
I've yet to hear a version by anyone else that's more compelling than
either the Albert Hall or Serenade versions or as touching as the
Toronto performance. The Toronto version would almost certainly be the
purist's choice of Lanza's renditions, notwithstanding the fact that
Mario makes up an entire line :-) (He sings, "La pace solta e' solo a
me" - a line that makes no sense - instead of "La pace sol cercando io
vo'", but what a recovery he makes!)
Usually, I find it easy to identify my favourite Lanza rendition of a
particular song or aria, but not in this instance. For years, it was
the 1955 Serenade soundtrack version. In fact, I didn't even know that
an earlier live performance existed until a decade or so ago. Now I
play the Toronto version at least as often as I do the Serenade
rendition - if not more. But listening to the intense Albert Hall
version while writing this post today, I was again reminded of the
fact that, putting aside its stylistic and musical deviations, it's
one heck of a performance as well.
So which of Lanza's four versions do you like best - and why? Are
there renditions by other tenors that you prefer to Lanza's? (I
imagine that the Gigli, Di Stefano and Carreras devotees among us will
have plenty to say about these tenors' recordings.) And if you haven't
heard all of Lanza's renditions, then you'll find the Toronto
performance in its best reproduction so far (with its previously
wayward pitch now corrected by our resourceful Vince di Placido) at
the bottom of our files section on this site, and the 1952 1955, and
1958 renditions here:
(Files don't stay long at the above site, so be quick!)
And for some very interesting technical comments from Armando on
Lanza's four recordings of the Lamento, you may also want to renew
your acquaintance with his post of a few weeks back here:
Finally, here are the words and their English translation:
È la solita storia del pastore.
Il povero ragazzo voleva raccontarla,
C'è nel sonno l'oblio.
Anch'io vorrei dormir così,
nel sonno almen l'oblio trovar!
La pace sol cercando io vo',
vorrei poter tutto scordar!
Pur ogni sforzo è vano,
davanti ho sempre di lei
il dolce sembiante!
La pace tolta è sempre a me!
Perchè degg'io tanto penar?
Lei, sempre lei mi parla al cor!
Fatale vision, mi lascia! Ah!
Mi fai tanto male! Ahimè!
It's the oft-told story of the shepherd.
The poor boy wanted to tell it
but he fell asleep.
In sleep there is oblivion.
How I envy him!
If only I could sleep like that,
and find oblivion at least in sleep!
I'm only looking for some peace,
I wish I could forget everything!
But every effort is in vain,
before me I always see
her sweet face!
I will never find peace!
Why must I suffer so much pain?
She, always she, talks to my heart!
Fateful vision, go away! Ah!
You hurt me so much! Alas!
Of course, the 1955 Serenade version is a wonderful piece of singing
too, and I do prefer the way Mario sings both the opening lines
(especially "Come l'invidio...") here and that astonishing high B at
the end. But the lyric quality in his voice on the 1948 performance,
coupled with the incredible sensitivity of his singing here, gives
this earlier performance the edge, I feel. Mario's also just a little
too histrionic (or "sobby", as Mike would say) in a couple of places
on his Serenade version in a way that doesn't bother me on his equally
thrilling Albert Hall rendition.
But we definitely agree on the fourth placing for the poor old
over-the-top Coke Show version! As I wrote in my Amazon review,
Mario's almost hysterical in his anguish here. I partly blame
Callinicos, though: the tempo's much too fast. If the Coke Show
producers could set aside four and a half minutes to Roses of Picardy
or They Didn't Believe Me on these shows, then they certainly could
have given the Lamento a bit more time to breathe. The Coke Che Gelida
Manina's even worse in this respect: they gallop through it!
Mannering's brief for this operatic compendium was to choose an
outstanding Lanza performance that was shorter than four minutes.
Sadly, that ruled out things like the Otello Monologue, the
Improvviso, and Che Gelida Manina.
I would have chosen M'Appari' to represent Mario rather than, say, the
1958 Vesti (which doesn't have good sound) or E Lucevan le Stelle.
It's a virtually flawless piece of singing, Lanza's in terrific vocal
shape, and it's the best version I've ever heard by anyone - including
even that of Fritz Wunderlich. The critics would have had a hard time
faulting him on this one - and the public would have loved it.
Here's a link to his performance of Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night" which his musical director Neil Warner interwove with "Claire d lune." Let me know what you think. Ciao - Tony